Austria-Hungary Mobilizes, Germany Gives an Ultimatum

In the afternoon of July 30th, 1914, the Tsar reversed himself again: under intense pressure from his advisers, Nicolas II issued orders for general mobilization

… directed against Germany as well as Austria-Hungary. His ability to make a decision had been questioned, and he had responded impulsively, to show that he was decisive. He did so believing that peace with Germany could still be maintained, as had happened after Russia had mobilized in 1913.

News of Russia’s [partial] mobilization had reached Germany on the morning of the 30th. Bethmann-Hollweg was now ashen with fear of a European-wide war, and he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Bethmann-Hollweg wired Austria’s foreign minister urging the Austrians to refrain from mobilizing against the Russians. Germany’s military command, in the person of von Moltke, was giving priority to measures of national defense and he wired a message to Austria insisting that Austria do its part by countering Russia. The foreign minister followed the wishes of von Moltke and ignored Bethmann-Hollweg. [Austria-Hungary began general mobilization shortly after noon on July 31st.]

Germany’s military command insisted that it was time for Germany to mobilize its armies. Mobilization meant calling up reservists. It was a move against letting belligerent powers acquire an advantage in speed – similar to a fast-draw duel in the American West, but in slow motion.


Shortly after three in the afternoon of July 31st, following Austria-Hungary’s declaration of mobilization, Germany sent a double ultimatum to Russia that it cease “every war measure” against Germany within twelve hours (meaning mobilization) and to France, demanding that France not mobilize and that it declare its intention to stay neutral in any German-Russian conflict.

The German ultimatum meant war would be triggered in twelve hours (the ultimatum would expire after noon on August 1st) even without Russia actually attacking Austria-Hungary or Germany. The only possible way for Russia and France to avoid war at this point was for Russia to immediately cease mobilization and for France to announce it would not mobilize and that it would not support Russia if war came, contrary to France’s treaty obligations.

How likely did Germany think this possibility really was?

At any rate, Russia did not cease its mobilization and shortly after noon on August 1st, France announced its own general mobilization would begin on August 2nd.


Marshal Joseph Jacques Césaire Joffre, commander-in-chief of the French Army.

Joffre petitioned the Minister of War to initiate mobilization and formally requested the same from President Poincaré on July 31st. After a debate by the cabinet in the early morning of August 1st, France announced it would in fact begin mobilizing the following day.


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